Environmental DNA Analysis to Determine Population Characteristics of Elusive Ephemeral Pool-Breeding Mole Salamanders, in Relation to the Effects of Climate Change

41% of amphibian species are currently threatened with extinction, according to the IUCN Red List. The factors driving these declines include habitat fragmentation, climate shifts, invasive species, and infectious disease. Vernal pool ecosystems are particularly vulnerable habitats on which many amphibian species are dependent. This study applies a passive biomonitoring technique, environmental DNA analysis, to two vernal pool-breeding salamander species and one ubiquitous frog species (positive control). Ambystoma jeffersonianum and Ambystoma laterale were surveyed through trace DNA in periodic water grabs from isolated breeding pools. PCR was performed on the filtered samples to amplify the 12S rRNA mitochondrial sequences for vertebrates in the ephemeral pools. The DNA was then sequenced with AMPLICON-EZ through GENEWIZ and referenced against a sequence database for target species. The results of this study were compared to historical data to reinforce declines and changing weather patterns. eDNA analysis is expected to reveal the presence of many vernal pool breeding amphibians, including species that elude traditional biomonitoring methods. These findings will contribute to the understanding of the impact of climate change on amphibian populations and creating localized conservation plans for vernal pool ecosystems.

Samara Davis

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